Are Conflicting Beliefs Tied to the Brain?

Since the “Decade of the Brain” in the 1990s, an increasing number of scientists and philosophers believe that there is no aspect of our lives that neuroscience cannot, in principle, help to illuminate. Unfortunately, and sadly, the interpretation of neuroscientific information about us is often surrounded by a fog of illogic and confusion. Clearing up the fog requires, among other things, careful scrutiny of the researchers’ basic assumptions; eradication of incoherent assertions, inconsistencies, and conceptual confusions; and an examination of conclusions and implications in the light of Scripture. A case in point is a news article in the March 23, 2016, ScienceDaily. This article presents research results that purportedly found the cause for the conflict between science and religion in the brain. According to the article, it “is perhaps most visible today in the arguments between evolution and creationism.” In a nutshell, scientists discovered two networks or structures in the brain, one associated with analytical thinking and science (naturalism and materialism),2 and the other with religion (emotion and moral concern). These networks, we are informed, are in “tension” or “competition.” So when someone thinks analytically and critically about the world (i.e., scientifically) then the network associated with it “suppresses” the network associated with religious beliefs (i.e., religion), and vice versa.

I wish to provide a few observations about how the conflict between science and religion can be avoided and indicate some of its implications. Near the end, the news article stated,

"Conflict can be avoided by remembering simple rules: “Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that's the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”

Observations

The suggested “rules” are quite consistent with much scientific and philosophical thinking today, and are neither new nor surprising. Philosopher Wilfred Sellars,3 half a century ago, wrote, “In the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not.” Francis Collins, geneticist and founder of BioLogos (a thinktank for theistic evolutionists), makes the same point in different words: “Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world.” This attitude is an expression of what an increasing number of scientists and philosophers acknowledge to be a religion and worldview called scientism (naturalist/evolutionary materialism). Hence, it is not strange that the rules are mutually exclusive.

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